Three months after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened a task force on the global food crisis, the world’s richest oil-exporting nations remain among the biggest food-aid cheapskates.
Donor lists obtained from the World Food Program, the United Nations’ food aid arm, show that Iran, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela have contributed little or nothing to WFP's coffers, even after Ban's emergency appeal. At the same time, sky-high oil prices and imbalances exacerbated by swollen oil revenues have continued to worsen the food crisis.
While the oil exporters have kept their wallets closed, the United States, whose economy has been damaged by skyrocketing fuel prices, has nearly tripled its WFP donations to more than $1 billion from $363 million in early May.
During the same period, Canada has nearly doubled its contributions to $192 million from $103 million in the same period; the European Commission has hiked its total to $180 million from $32 million; Britain has leaped to $112 million from $36 million; and Italy has more than doubled its contributions to $99 million from $41.5 million.
In the meantime, the OPEC Fund has lifted its WFP contributions to $2.4 million, up slightly less than $2 million from its initial contributions last May but less than $1 million above the amount it had kicked in when FOX News’ original story was published.
There are two major exceptions to the Scrooge-like behavior among the oil exporters: Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
The Saudis kicked in an impressive $500 million donation to the WFP, ranking them second behind the United States, after FOX News initially reported the tight-fisted habits of OPEC last May.
The other major exception is Iraq, which has come under fire lately from U.S. Democrats for running a budget surplus as the U.S. troop surge restores the country to relative post-war stability. The Iraqi government donated $40 million to the WFP, according to the U.N. organization’s latest public figures — also after FOX’s story.
But countries such as Iran, with oil revenues last year of $57 billion and nearly the same amount in the first six months of 2008; Kuwait, with 2007 oil revenues of $55 billion and $54 billion through June 2008; and Venezuela, with revenues of $44 billion in 2007 and $41 billion through June 2008, have added not a dollar to their marginal-to-non-existent WFP tallies.
Intent on expanding its regional influence in Latin America, however, Venezuela has funneled at least $1 billion in "development aid" to its middle-income neighbors.
In all, WFP reports that it received $3.1 billion in donations in 2008 from 76 nations, including tiny Bhutan and the Faroe Islands. That is a three-fold increase in contributions from early May, when the number of donors stood at 57.
Yet the total is far from enough. WFP says it needs nearly $6 billion for its budget this year to deal with the food crisis, all of which must come in the form of voluntary donations. In June, during a food security conference in Rome, WFP announced that it would fork over $1.2 billion in cash to 62 countries suffering from high food prices.
On Tuesday the WFP announced another $214 million package aimed at hunger "hot spots," which include 11 million people in predominately urban areas where food prices are rising fast.
"We have many more hungry people to feed today than even just a few months ago," says Brenda Barton, a WFP spokesperson, "including at least 14 million people in the Horn of Africa where drought and insecurity, coupled with high food prices, is putting lives at risk."
She calls donor response so far "encouraging" but adds, "We have a long way to go."
WFP will continue to update its donor tallies online, Barton says.
George Russell is executive editor of Fox News.